Marathon Woman | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Marathon Woman

I'm doing a crazy thing this summer. It's a little bit self-serving, but mostly it could benefit a few million people that I will never meet. In January, I joined Team Diabetes, a fund-raising and awareness program sponsored by the American Diabetes Association for folks who want to train to run a full or half marathon while raising funds for the association. Yes, I'm gonna run a marathon. This time last year I believed that one should only run if being chased. Today, I'm already running nine miles. As I train over the next few months, my eyes are on one prize: the Kona Marathon in Hawaii. I am indeed traveling a great distance both physically and mentally to meet my destiny at the end of that finish line.

Why am I doing this to myself, you ask? Hey, I turned 30 last August and suddenly found myself spending a few extra minutes staring into the mirror each night examining the creases around my eyes and the unfamiliar contours of my hips and thighs. I decided to take action. I charted my fitness goals and set out to be in the best shape of my life by my 31st birthday. I was weight training and spinning like a maniac. Finally, at the prodding of two friends (Blondie and Mamí to our regular readers), I ran my first mile. I discovered the joys and pains of running, and I've been addicted ever since.

Then in December, my buddy Sam came up with the bright idea that we should run a marathon. Just to clear up any confusion: yes, a marathon is 26.2 miles. She'd been listening to her friend Triathlon Man again, and now I was part of his evil plan to train the entire world for fitness domination.

I was skeptical. I was hardly a seasoned runner, my knee didn't always cooperate, and the course sounded rather hilly. But more importantly, a marathon is indeed 26.2 miles! Then it happened. I turned to Sam one day at work and said, "OK, I'll do it." Had I lost my mind? Did I forget about the 26.2 miles part of this deal? Well, the original plan was to complete the half marathon—I'll let you do the math, but it's still a long way. But as I began my training, I convinced myself that it had to be all or nothing. After all, this is for charity.

But that charity thing really didn't impress me that much until I attended the first Team Diabetes meeting. There in the association's quaint offices just off Lakeland Drive, I met Shannon Smith, district manager for Mississippi. Her infectious enthusiasm and genuine appreciation for the volunteers made something very clear: This was a lot bigger than me. I originally signed up for the marathon because I thought it would be a good way to lose weight. But I realized my efforts to promote diabetes awareness and raise money for research could affect the quality and even the length of the lives of a child with Type 1 diabetes who must prick her finger daily, or of a middle-aged man like my best friend's father who worries about foot problems due to Type 2 diabetes. I'm certainly no athlete, but I know a worthy cause when I see one. Diabetes affects approximately 17 million people in the United States, nearly a third of which may not have been diagnosed yet. Thirteen percent of all African Americans have diabetes. Complications from either type of diabetes include: heart disease, blindness, kidney disease, nerve damage, skin disorders and many others. I can name at least 10 people that I know who have diabetes. How about you?

While I have a strong body and agile mind, I'm going to hit the pavement and try to make a difference. Some of the funds I raise will cover my expenses for the race, but over 70 percent will go directly to diabetes education and research. So just call me Marathon Woman, and when you see me about town in my sweaty tights and muddy running shoes, remember that I'm running for more than thinner thighs.

To support Team Diabetes and this writer's efforts, send your tax-deductible contribution to: American Diabetes Association, c/o Jennifer Spann, 660 Lakeland East Drive, Suite 100, Jackson, Miss., 39208. Or call Shannon at 932-1118 for more information about ADA.

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